Quarantine in the middle of the ocean

Maritime transport, the hub of international trade, suffers from the coronavirus pandemic especially hard because seafarers find it very difficult to return home, as governments around the world have closed their ports. This is the case of Antoni Roig, who demands support from the authorities for navigation, an essential job.

Seven months ago, Antoni Roig embarked as a bridge student on a merchant ship that operates in the North Pacific; Still a nautical student at the University of Cádiz, at just 23 years old, he is facing a global pandemic that persecutes thousands of sailors.

Antoni, who was surprised by the pandemic on January 19 sailing to the port of Ningbo (China), tells Efe from his boat that they carried out operations normally at a time when "we knew the virus," he says, "but we still did not give it to him." importance".

Navigation, heading to ports on the banks of the Yangtze River, was stopped because the authorities informed them that they should go to the anchorage until they were assigned a new time to enter the river, he says.

These delays to docking seemed to be a consequence of the proximity of the Chinese New Year.

"We thought that they could not cope," says this student, who explains that the merchant stood for almost a week standing at the mouth of the Yangtze, opposite Shanghai, where hundreds of ships were crowded waiting, like them, to enter port.

As news came, the perception of what could be happening changed and they realized "it was because of the coronavirus and the seriousness of the matter," explains Antoni, who, like many navigators, began to wonder what would happen to them.

The Chinese authorities did not make themselves beg much more, they initiated checks and monitoring of the health of the crew, while the shipping company that owned the ship informed them of new protection measures.

“The days passed and finally we entered the river; Chinese authorities boarded and since then, the use of masks and gloves was installed on the ship. In addition, the entry of people who were not strictly necessary to carry out the operations was restricted, ”says Antoni.

He recalls that they anchored in three ports on the Yangtze River and that they left China "with the thought of leaving the coronavirus behind, something that would not come true", since Roig and the other 25 crew members would have to face more consequences of the pandemic.

"The next port was Taiwan, where part of the crew was expected to be relieved, but the authorities did not allow anyone to disembark, because we had been in China the last fourteen days, the incubation period" of the coronavirus.


Antoni adds that "the situation was getting very ugly, the governments were starting to take stockings", so that until February 2 they could not set sail from Taiwan, with twenty days of navigation ahead to the state of Washington, in the west coast of the United States.

Again they had the impression that everything seemed to be against them after discovering "that the state most affected by the virus was Washington, it seemed that the virus was following us!" He exclaims.

Time passed, and for the second week of March the chemical tanker arrived in Vancouver (Canada), where, unknowingly, the last crew relays were carried out, a moment that coincided "with the outbreak of the virus around the world", he points out the young man.

In late March, sailing back to China, they realized that “going home would be very difficult” because governments around the world were closing borders: the coronavirus had exploded globally.

After completing another route to America, in mid-April they returned again to China, where "the relay option was already unfeasible."

Never before seen situations began to occur within the merchant ship, "the meetings on board were held on deck, outdoors and always maintaining a safe distance," he explains.

Sadly, Antoni recalls that “going home is a very difficult thing for the vast majority of seafarers, governments have closed borders and airlines do not operate; everything is stopped ”.

"We ask governments to safely make it easier for us to travel home and work, there are crew members who have been on board for eight, ten, and even twelve months," and points out in his statements to Efe that being on board for so long "takes its toll" "


Since March, the International Maritime Organization advises governments to facilitate the exchange of crews of ships that dock in their ports "for the good of the people and not to affect international trade," says Antoni.

"Ninety percent of commerce is carried out by sea, we are essential workers, we require fair measures so that we can continue to carry out our work," claims the young man.

Antoni Roig is not the only worker trapped, as around 100,000 crew members have to be surveyed worldwide each month, according to data from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS).

The response of the Spanish authorities came on April 29 with the publication of an order in the BOE detailing a new model of action to facilitate the relief of the crews in order to "secure" maritime transport.

The order is in line with the guidelines of the European Commission on the movement of transport workers, including "seafarers" to ensure their incorporation into the job, in addition to returning to their country of origin "favoring with it the crew changes ”.

The pandemic is breaking the networks between countries, while the crew awaits the arrival of answers about what will become of them, and amid the noise caused by the virus, they continue to bring and carry the materials that make the world work, in the silence of who sails alone across the sea.

Irene Barahona


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